Crossing the Streams: October 2017, by Jim Rohner
Congratulations! With your recent purchase of a brand new Roku/Apple TV/Amazon Fire Stick you’re ready to – as Obi-Wan Kenobi said – take your first step into a larger world. That larger world is, of course, the world of cord cutting in which a seemingly endless supply of streaming apps, services, and content are available instantaneously at your fingertips. But with so many options of things to watch spread out across so many different services changing literally by the day, what’s worth binge watching before it expires and you’d have to – (GASP) – pay for it? Allow Crossing the Streams to be your official guide to what’s worth watching before it expires, what’s just been made available, and what’s just plain damn good.
Watch It Now
Well, it’s that time of year again – the part of the calendar where the leaves are changing, night comes earlier, the days get colder, and we allow ourselves the suspension of disbelief to indulge in fantasies of things going bump in the night. I recognize that not everyone is a fan of the calendar turn and that some of you out there are still mourning the loss of your weekend beach trips, short pants, and late sunsets. But whether you’re hiding from the weather or the masked killer that stalking around your neighborhood, there’s nothing scarier than realizing you’ve lost the opportunity to stream some great titles for free. I’m here to help you exorcise that fear.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Amazon Prime): I’ve documented before my love for the original Tobe Hooper horror masterpiece and I loved it so much that for so long I was heavily critical of his dark comedy follow-up, feeling that bringing any type of levity to the story of Leatherface and his family somehow cheapened the memory and legacy of that gritty, 1970s trailblazing film. In recent years I’ve changed my tune, coming around to embrace the extrapolation of the dark humor that was always prevalent in the original (“look what your brother did to the door!”) and learning to truly appreciate how bold and versatile of a move it was for Hooper to take his creation into a different direction. The late filmmaker could have rested on his laurels and made basically the same film again like so many other horror franchises would later do, but he didn’t, and now we have a chainsaw battle between Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) to enjoy. While it’s safe to conclude that the tepid response had somewhat of a detrimental effect on his feature filmmaking career, we can still delight in his endeavor and appreciate that he tried something different. We won’t be able to delight for too long though as this dark comic gem expires on October 31st.
Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux (Hulu): This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War masterpiece so I won’t bore you with retreading what I’ve said but it’s such an amazing film that it bears writing about again. I’m currently writing this blog during the season where, according to Charles Cyphers, “we’re all entitled to one good scare,” and while part of the enjoyment of horror films comes from the recognition that the scares are superficial and finite, no cinematic horror could ever compare to real life. Apocalypse Now, thanks (for lack of a better term) to its nightmare production and depiction of real-life horrors manages to horrify you as a viewer in both real and fictionalized ways. It is by no means an easy film to watch, but it’s an important one to see, and will only be available on Hulu until October 31st.
Do the Right Thing (HBO Now): I still haven’t attempted a formalized Top Ten Films of All Time list but if I were to ever do so, Do the Right Thing would almost certainly be on my list. Watching Spike Lee’s meditation on race relations in 1980s Brooklyn for the first time as a recent, white, suburban college graduate, I found Lee’s answer as to whether or not we should condemn Mookie’s behavior to be maddeningly ambiguous. Flash forward a decade later and this white, suburban college graduate has lived and worked in New York City for years, and has been surrounded by different ethnicities, cultures, and philosophies who would all likely have a different answer to that question. That’s the brilliance of Do the Right Thing – it’s not that Lee doesn’t have an opinion on the matter (he has, he does, and he unabashedly makes it very clear) or that he’s particularly concerned with creating a cinematic Rorschach test; but 30 years before Black Lives Matter, he was talking about police violence against blacks, about gentrification in largely black neighborhoods, and about the racial disconnect that existed – and still exists – in the so-called melting pot of the greatest city in the world. What seemed ambiguous 10 years ago is now so painfully clear and the question has become, if we still haven’t gotten that far in the last 30 years, what will the next 30 look like? Do the Right Thing expires from HBO Now on October 31st.
Night of the Living Dead (Mubi): In 1968, George A. Romero and a small group of people who had been working on filming industrials in and around Pittsburgh shot a low-budget, black and white horror film about dead people who had come back to life due to unknown circumstances and started eating the living. The living who had been eaten would themselves return from the dead to perpetuate the cycle, cementing the tropes and mythology of the modern-day zombie film and forever changing the face of contemporary horror cinema. Romero, who passed away earlier this year, was not just a name in zombie mythology, but THE name, the gate through which all things living and undead passed when it came to cultural and artistic emulation and influence. While later works in his Dead oeuvre (Day of, Dawn of, Land of) may have had bigger budgets and more biting social commentary, it was Night of the Living Dead that kick-started both a generation of filmmakers and nightmares. They’re coming to get Barbara, but they won’t be coming for her after October 31st.
Other Notable Titles Expiring: The Breakfast Club (October 31, HBO Now), Minority Report (October 31, HBO Now), Sixteen Candles (October 31, HBO Now), Unforgiven (October 31, HBO Now), Big Fish (October 31, Hulu), Louie Seasons 1 – 5 (October 27, Netflix), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey (October 31, Amazon Prime), Cloverfield (October 31, Amazon Prime), What Lies Beneath (October 31, Amazon Prime)
Watch It Later
All of the titles mentioned in this section have either just been made available, will be available soon, or their rights have recently been renewed. Either way, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, just like you’re not getting out from of those flannel pants or from under that thick blanket anytime soon either.
Stranger Things Season 2 (Netflix): If you’re anything like me then you’ve been waiting for the second season of Stranger Things since the first season ended. A Netflix original that debuted with relatively little fanfare ended up taking the world by storm, garnering 2 Golden Globe nominations, 5 Emmy wins to go along with 13 other nominations, and an internet infatuation with series stars Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and David Harbour. Critics of the show complained it was style without substance, superficial nostalgia without a worthwhile story to support the influences creators the Duffer Brothers wore on their sleeves. Those critics are wrong, of course, as Stranger Things was a perfect blend of 80’s reverence and emotional storytelling, the best Stephen King story not based on anything written by Stephen King (it also brought us this). If the trailers for season 2 are any indication, then we’ll be exploring more of the entities that exist in the Upside Down as well as the scars its left on this side of the world. Re-watch all 8 episodes of the first season if you have to prepare, because season 2 premieres October 27th.
Mindhunter (Netflix): The last time David Fincher set the template for a Netflix Original program, it ended up becoming the first streaming service exclusive series to be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys. If the early reviews for Mindhunter are to be believed, then it’s entirely possible that Netflix and Fincher are 2 for 2. Mindhunter, based on the book by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, follows two FBI agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), as they attempt to blend psychology and criminology together to change the way that law enforcement profiles and understands serial killers in the 1970s. While it’s easy to be tempted to assume that the show sounds like a standard procedural with a bit of a darker edge, just a viewing of the pilot will convince you otherwise. While the show is in Fincher’s wheelhouse as a story of obsessive people meticulously pursuing their obsessions, it’s also a procedural show for a more progressive generation, eschewing the salacious, black and white casting of its perpetrators a la CSI or Law and Order, instead taking the time to recognize and explore the emotional, cultural, and societal factors that shape the complex algorithms that result in criminals easily cast aside as lunatics. Mindhunter doesn’t attempt to sympathize with criminals, but to understand that criminals are not born, they are made. Holt McCallany is a standout in the casting department as is Cameron Britton as “The Coed Killer” Edmund Kemper. Mindhunter premiered on Netflix on Friday the 13th.
30 Rock (Hulu): Remember how last month I lamented that 30 Rock was leaving Netflix? Well, if reading that led to an existential crisis that saw you pray to a god you didn’t believe in for deliverance, then I’m here to tell you that that god has answered your prayers and that god’s name is Hulu. Seeing as I gushed about the series last week, again, I won’t bore you by retreading old ground, but I will take this opportunity to once again bring up what should be your new Halloween tradition. Hulu saved 30 Rock on October 1st.
Lore (Amazon Prime): If you’ve been a longtime fan of Lore, then it’s very likely the new TV adaptation won’t add anything new to your appreciation of Aaron Mahnke’s podcast. Executive produced by genre veterans Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, The Walking Dead) and Glen Morgan (The X-Files, The River), the Lore TV show isn’t so much an expansion on the bi-weekly podcast as much as it’s an attempt to attract a new audience by highlighting some of the finer episodes that already exist. The fact that the episodes you’ll watch are some of the episodes to which you’ve already listened means that the show won’t do any favors for the podcast crowd, but where both the podcast and the series excel is in digging up and displaying horrors and myths that at one point were accepted as gospel truth in America (and not as long ago as might make you comfortable). Lore isn’t concerned with scaring its audience with tales of ghosts and goblins, but is instead interested in reminding viewers that horrors exist within the constitution of peoples’ beliefs, like tuberculosis being caused by demonic possession or ice pick lobotomies instituted as an act of mercy. We often like to tell ourselves that we’ve come so far as a society, that we’re advanced, cultured, and civilized; but it wasn’t that long ago that we were looking to science to explain why non-Caucasians were inferior races and not long before that, we were digging up corpses to prove the existence of vampires. Lore has been reminding us that sometimes real life is scarier than fiction since Friday the 13th.
Arrival (Hulu): While La La Land was my favorite film of 2016, Arrival was the best film that I saw. While Prisoners and Sicario showed us that Denis Villeneuve was a true filmmaking talent, it was Arrival that was his first film that was almost universally lauded as being a masterpiece. A hard film to talk too much about without giving away significant plot details, Arrival was the exact kind of science fiction film that our society needs, the one that uses an outside entity to highlight both the hope and the peril that exists within our interpersonal and societal communications and conflicts. It’s strange to think that a film that largely revolves around language could be so riveting and emotionally compelling, yet here we are. The film will arrive (sorry – had to) on October 28th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving: Colossal (October 4, Hulu), Cabin Fever (October 1, Hulu), Carrie (October 1, Hulu), Fargo (October 1, Hulu/Amazon Prime), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (October 1, Hulu/Amazon Prime), Halloween H20 (October 1, Hulu), Hellboy (October 1, Hulu) Hostel/Hostel 2 (October 1, Hulu), Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 (October 1, Hulu), Pi (October 1, Hulu), The Fog (October 5, Hulu), Boogie Nights (October 1, Netflix), Eyes Wide Shut (October 1, Netflix), Never Let Me Go (October 1, Netflix), Cult of Chucky (October 3, Netflix), Raw (October 4, Netflix), The Babysitter (October 13, Netflix), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (October 13, Netflix), Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (October 17, Netflix), The Hateful Eight (October 25, Netflix), Spielberg (HBO Now, October 7), John Wick: Chapter 2 (HBO Now, October 21), Split (HBO Now, October 28), Clueless (October 1, Amazon Prime), The Machinist (October 1, Amazon Prime), The Americans Season 5 (October 5, Amazon Prime)
Just Watch It
Somewhere in between the titles that are expiring and the titles that have just entered this world lay those that we’ve either taken for granted, forgotten about, or just plain didn’t realize we could watch for free. Let’s fix that because they’re damn good and they’re waiting for you.
Blair Witch (Hulu/Amazon Prime): Before Blair Witch had been released and was still known as The Woods, hype around the film was higher than any horror film that I can remember in a long time. Eventually it was revealed to be a sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, was released, and then almost immediately forgotten about. The low budget found footage film made its money back and more, but it was absolutely ravaged by critics (35% on RT) and audiences (29%) alike. Some people complained that it was basically just a rehashing of the original while others said that maybe audiences had finally just gotten tired of found footage films. While I’m not here to tell you that Blair Witch is an unappreciated masterpiece, I do think it deserved a much better fate than the backlash it received. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are competent at their worst and exciting and enthusiastic filmmakers at their best and their addition to the Blair Witch franchise pays a healthy respect to its predecessor and its genre and – if I’m interpreting the ending correctly – adds a super fascinating wrinkle to the interpretation of the mythology. I’ll say nothing else and let you judge for yourself.
Saw (Netflix): Like it or not, Jigsaw is the Jason Voorhees/Freddy Krueger/Michael Myers equivalent for the Millennial generation. Jigsaw will be the 8th entry in the horror franchise, surpassing the iterations of the original Michael Myers and matching the original Freddy Krueger (surpassing if we discount Freddy vs. Jason). With what absurd Rube-Golbergian heights the franchise eventually reached, it’s easy to forget about its low-budget, but narratively ambitious origin. Created by film school friends Leigh Whannel and James Wan, what Saw lacked in budget and set pieces it more than made up for with a smart script and creation of a villain whose twisted moral code tapped into the cynical and jaded vein of a post-9/11 audience. In the process, the two friends accomplished what so many people have tried and failed to do: created an icon. Where does your mind go when you hear the question, “do you want to play a game?”
The Nightmare (Netflix): With Room 237, director Rodney Ascher used the voices of regular people to find out what they found so scary about The Shining. With The Nightmare, he again returns to the voices of regular people, but this time it’s to find out what’s so scary about real life. Called “Old Hag Syndrome” by older cultures, sleep paralysis is a widespread but little understood phenomena in which a sleeping person is seemingly aware but unable to move or react to horrific visions that visit them at night, often taking the form of shadowy figures. While the vast majority of the world views sleep as an escape and opportunity to refresh and recharge, people who suffer from sleep paralysis have a real reason to fear the sundown because they know what terrifying things await them after they fall asleep. The terror in The Nightmare comes not just from the re-dramatizations of the visions that his interviewees depict, but also in resting with the general knowledge that a biological process so necessary to our natural cycle has been poisoned for some.
Beware the Slenderman (HBO Now): You don’t need to have watched each entry of Marble Hornets to be aware of Slenderman, arguably the most (in)famous Creepypasta in the whole world. For most of us, Slenderman is a fascinating look at an internet subculture through something that it created and proliferated. But for 3 young girls, he stood for so much more and can likely never again be seen as just a meme when two friends lured a third into the woods and attempted to stab her to death in an effort to appease the fictional, faceless entity. While the film touches upon the origin of the Slenderman, its primary focus is on the disconnection from reality that the perpetrators experienced and how fertile their young minds were to latch onto any reality that had an already dedicated community built up around it.